Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer Hot Spring Experience in Tokamachi: Art, Baths, Forest Walks, Gourmet Food

Hot Spring Addict Relaxing in one of the Outdoor Baths at Matsunoyama Onsen Ryokan Chitose
With over three thousand hot spring resort areas in Japan, one could spend a lifetime trying out new baths what a great life that would be—so why visit some areas again and again? Often, one trip is not enough to savor all the waters, food, and attractions. Also, seasons in Japan are as different as sashimi and roast beef. Consider Tokamachi, Niigata, for instance. Last winter, I stayed at the Cloud Sea Hotel in Matsudai Onsen, Tokamachi, where I snowshoed and soaked in baths surrounded by vast regions of snow. While driving from the hotel to the mind-blowing, gigantic, snow-sculpture Tokamachi Snow Festival, I saw a road crossing an icy river into a narrow valley. A cliffside sign announced the existence of hot springs I had not yet visited. I had a premonition that the road would lead to a great time; it did. Returning to Tokamachi for summer bathing was a fantastic decision.
Walking Around Matsudai Onsen in Yukata
So was my choice of Japanese ryokan. When friends came from America for their first exploratory trip of the Japanese countryside, my memory of the aforementioned road beckoned me. After a little research, I took them to Matsunoyama Onsen Ryokan Chitose for their introduction into Japanese onsen culture and rural Japan. Why? I had learned that Japanese onsen connoisseurs rate the thermal discharges in this tiny onsen village as being among the top three most medicinal waters in the entire country. The thermal waters are among the most mineral-laden waters in Japan. Otaku is Japanese for nerd, or someone obsessed with a particular interest. In this case, the hot spring otaku community is almost unanimous in declaring that Matsunoyama Onsen, Arima Onsen, and Kusatsu Onsen are the best for healing purposes. Locals say that their springs heal cuts and wounds, skin conditions, nerve pain, back pain, circulation problems, and they add that the waters also clean and moisturize skin. When bathing, you will notice that the smoothness of the water. After bathing, you do notice a marked difference in the quality of your skin.
One small road leads up and down the center of the tiny onsen village
Waterfalls, sake tasting, gourmet meals that never seemed to end, walks punctuated by foot baths, a private bath, a jazz coffee shop, bird watching in the day and moon watching in the evening. Matsudai Onsen is small, but there is a lot to do, and all the activities lead to relaxation

The fourth generation of owners/managers provide personal service. For instance, my vegetarian wife got an all vegetarian meal. One friend wanted pork. Another wanted to eat the local beef. I had a little of everything. The quality and quantity of regional specialties that the chefs prepared for us left us more than satisfied and much more than full. We ate in a dining room arranged for just us. If you stay there, you can eat in your private dining room.
Visitors can use some of the bathing facilities, but I recommend staying. The owners speak English well. They provide excellent service. Also, they are happy to show you old photographs of the area and teach you about unusual local customs in Matsudai Onsen. 
A Photograph of the Owners During a Local Ceremony
You can choose from a wide variety of rooms, including ones with private baths next to the bedroom. If you stay in a more economical room, but want to share a bath with your family or friends, the hotel has a bath that you can reserve for private use. Made of cypress wood, the bath exudes a pleasant woodsy aroma.

You should combine forest walks and art walks with your onsen trip. Next to the local train station in Matsudai, is an art walk that can take several hours if you see everything. You might think that crazy—in a good way—artists had scattered their most eclectic art throughout farmland and woods.

I did not mention prices because those depend upon the rooms that you choose and the booking service or travel agency that you use. 

My only complaint with this onsen village is that between the old-style Japanese buildings, such as Ryokan Chitose, stand a few concrete monstrosities that detract from the natural and traditional atmosphere of the area. My praise of Rokan Chitose was not paid for with  freebies.

Another wonderful hotel, which is within a short drive and which has an excellent rotenburu, outdoor bath, is the Cloud Sea Hotel.

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